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Frank Desprez, playwright, essayist, and poet, the eldest of the eleven children of Charles Desprez, jeweler and silversmith, and Sarah Ann Swain, was born in Bristol, England, on February 9 (or 10), 1853. The family was of French descent.

After concluding his education at Cosham School, Wiltshire, Desprez was apprenticed to a Bristol copper-engraving firm. Because of trouble with his right eye, he gave up engraving and moved to Texas while he was still in his teens with his cousin Willie Pinder. For about three years Desprez worked on a Texas ranch, though its location is unknown.

Desprez returned to Britain in 1875. He began his career as a theatrical writer unpromisingly, supplying prima donna Selina Dolaro with a mutilated version of La Fille de MadameAngot which all but eliminated the co-starring role of Clairette and expanded that of Mlle Lange (who doesn't appear till Act II) for his employer and, when this piece went on the road, he also authored a little forepiece for it. Happy Hampstead was set to music by Dolaro's manager, Richard D'Oyly Carte.

Desprez subsquently became one of Carte's closest friends and worked with him for many years as secretary whilst, at the same time, writing the texts for the little operettas which preceded the Gilbert and Sullivan shows on the bills at the Opera Comique and the Savoy. Virtually all of these had very long runs, in tandem with and sometimes beyond the runs of the principal pieces, and they were played throughout the country as forepieces, benefit and short-programme items, much as the short works of Offenbach and his contemporaries had been in France a decade and more earlier. Working with composers such as Cellier and Solomon, Desprez established himself as the best-displayed practitioner of the one-act form in Britain.

Perhaps his most played work, however, was the two-act musical comedy Tita in Thibet, written for Kate Santley, which later became a staple in the touring baggage of the Majilton company by whom it was played more than a thousand times in the provinces. Undoubtedly his best work was his lyrical contribution to the Savoy Theatre's The Nautch Girl, the show which deputized more than adequately for the Gilbert and Sullivan series during the quarrel between the two famous writers.

In 1883 Desprez married Jessie McQueen, the daughter of an officer in Her Majesty's dragoons; they had a son and two daughters. In 1884 Desprez began writing for The Era, London's foremost theatre paper, and he became its editor in 1893, a position he held until illness forced him to retire in 1913.

Desprez was also an essayist and poet. Dozens of his pieces on travel, art, music, and famous personalities were published in English periodicals, most of them between 1905 and 1914. His best-known work, however, is a poem, "Lasca," about a Mexican girl and her cowboy sweetheart caught in a cattle stampede "in Texas down by the Rio Grande." The ballad-like poem, first published in a London magazine in 1882, has often been reprinted, usually with deletions and changes, and recited in many parts of the English-speaking world.

Between 1873 and 1882 at least four other of Desprez's poems were published, two of which are about Texas. Desprez died in London on November 25 (or 22), 1916.

Theatrical Works
  • 1875 La Fille de Madame Angot English version (Royalty Theatre)
  • 1876 Happy Hampstead (Richard D'Oyly Carte) 1 act Alexandra Theatre, Liverpool 3 July
  • 1878 After All (Alfred Cellier) 1 act Opera Comique 23 December
  • 1879 Tita in Thibet (aka Brum, a Birmingham Merchant) Royalty Theatre 1 January
  • 1880 In the Sulks (A Cellier) 1 act Opera Comique 21 February
  • 1881 Quite an Adventure (Edward Solomon) 1 act Olympic Theatre 7 September
  • 1881 Mock Turtles (Eaton Fanning) 1 act Savoy Theatre 15 October
  • 1883 Lurette (Belle Lurette) English version w Alfred Murray, H S Leigh (Avenue Theatre)
  • 1883 A Private Wire (Percy Reeve/w Arnold Felix) 1 act Savoy Theatre 31 March
  • 1885 Round and Square (Edward Solomon) Performed on tour.
  • 1886 The Carp (A Cellier) 1 act Savoy Theatre 13 February
  • 1888 Mrs Jarramie's Genie (A Cellier, Francois Cellier) 1 act Savoy Theatre 14 February
  • 1889 Delia (Procida Bucalossi) Bristol 11 March (as `F Soulbieu')
  • 1891 The Nautch Girl (Solomon/Dance) Savoy Theatre 30 June
  • 1892 Brother George (Bucalossi) Portsmouth 16 May

Lasca

Frank Desprez's best-known work is a poem, "Lasca" about a Mexican girl and her cowboy sweetheart caught in a cattle stampede "in Texas down by the Rio Grande." The ballad-like poem, first published The London Society: A Magazine of Light and Amusing Literature, for November of 1882, has often been reprinted, A couple of years later, it appeared in the Livestock Journal, and in the Miles City Stockman. Some reprints have deletions and changes. It also became popular as a recitation.

  • Text
  • Recitation by Harry E. Humphrey, recorded in 1919 on record Edison 50575-L.
    (606 Meg. MP3 File)

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